An Introduction to ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)

What is applied behavior analysis (ABA)?

Applied behavior analysis is a field that works with individuals to determine the function of behavior as well as environmental reinforcers that encourage or discourage the likelihood of individuals displaying target behaviors.

What is a target behavior?

A target behavior is any behavior that is being addressed or talked about by a professional, parent, or client.

What is a problem behavior?

A problem behavior is an action or verbal statement that is deemed inappropriate.

Why do people engage in problem behavior?

According to the field, there are four functions (or reasons) individuals engage in any behavior: attention seeking, access to a tangible (item), sensory stimulation (produces a good feeling), or avoidance (of a task, person, or environment). In short, individuals engage in multiple behavior to get what they want or don’t want.

What is a replacement behavior?

A replacement behavior is an agreed upon appropriate behavior that serves the same function as the problem behavior displayed by the individual. A replacement behavior must be: developmentally appropriate, context appropriate, and provide the same access to the desired function of the behavior. Essentially, it replaces the problem behavior in exchange for a more appropriate behavior.

What is the ABC approach to understanding behavior?

When a behavior takes place, professionals consider what takes place before the behavior occurred (the antecedent) and what takes place after the behavior occurred (the consequence). The ABC approach allows analyst to track behavior for patterns, trends, and other factors that may provide insight on why an individual is behaving in a certain way. An example of a familiar chart using the ABC approach is below.

***all scenarios are made up

behavior monitoring, function, shaping, identifying

Why is ABA helpful?

Behavior analysts can help individuals adapt to their environment as well as train care givers various effective ways to prevent and react to problem behaviors displayed by an individual. It also can help individuals achieve personal goals and shape their behavior in a way that is beneficial. ABA is used in public and private schools, hospitals, group homes, mental care facilities, rehab centers, self-help institutes, and specialized disability learning centers.

Building Social Skills

“If school is to help student learn to develop into adults who can work collaboratively, contribute to society, problem solve, live independently, and develop meaningful relations, we must continue to explore how to infuse the teaching of social thinking and related skills into the curriculum, both within academic lessons and within the social curriculum.”

-Learners on the Autism Spectrum by Kari Buron and Pamela Wolfberg


orphans, children in Africa

New Jersey: Early Intervention Services

What is Early Intervention?

Early Intervention provides services for infants and toddlers (age birth to three years of age) with developmental delays and disabilities. The goal is to provide needed services as early as possible to help individuals mature and reach their fullest potential.

Does Early Intervention differ state to state?

Yes, each state outlines their own early intervention services as well as insurance plans available for families and their children. Grants may differ state to state as well as treatments (such as applied behavior analysis) covered or not covered by insurance companies.

Who is in charge of Early Intervention? 

The Department of Health and more specifically the Division of Family Health Services. Formally (in the 90s), the Department of Education was responsible in New Jersey.

What do New Jersey Early Intervention Services look like?

New Jersey offers Early Intervention Services to New Jersey residents. Some of these services include: assistive technology services/devices; audiology services; developmental intervention; family training, counseling and home visits; health services; nursing services; nutrition services; occupational therapy; psychological services; social work services; speech and language therapy; vision services; and other early intervention services.

The goal of the state is to promote collaboration, provide a family centered approach, and reflect on the best practices for early intervention.

How does Early Intervention work?

The first step when thinking that your child is developing differently is to visit the Early Intervention System (NJEIS) website Although the website is a bit hard to navigate, a parent can make a referral by calling 888-653-4463. A copy of the state flyer is here:

Who provides the services for my child? 

While the state utilizes a lot of different providers, I wanted to highlight two found in the annual county performance report.

1. Progressive Steps is a comprehensive service provider that consists of a team of specialist that provides early intervention throughout the state of New Jersey. The team of occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language therapists, special educators, psychologists, social workers, nurses, child development associates, child development specialists, behavioral specialists, and nutritionists all work together to provide individuals and their families individualized services. These services are performed in the home/natural environment, at school, or in the community. Progressive steps can be reached at 201-525-6199 or on their website:

2. Team Hope is a speech and pediatric therapy center that prides itself in a variety of therapies including: speech/language, feeding, myofunctional therapy, PROMT, sensory integration, occupational, physical, and play therapy, social thinking groups, verbal behavior, and applied behavior analysis. The center assess, evaluates, and provides an individualized program for each person. Team Hope can be reached at 908-375-8237 or at

Does my insurance cover these services? 

It depends. Therapy can be expensive, but New Jersey luckily passed the New Jersey’s Autism Insurance Act which requires insurers to cover the cost of screening and the diagnoses of autism and other developmental disabilities, provide the cost of occupational, speech, and physical therapy as listed in the treatment plan, and  provide behavior interventions treatments founded in applied behavior analysis principles until the age of 21.

Out of pocket expenesives for these programs depend on family income as outlined by the State: State expenses may not cover auditory integration, facilitated communication, cranial sacral therapy, certain medial procedures, and music therapy. Detailed insurance information can be found at:

In addition, grants are given annual to each county since services are organized throughout. Phone numbers for each county can be found at:

I have other questions. Where do I go? 

This post is written to just get you started! Frequently asked questions about Early Interventions Services for New Jersey can be found by clicking on the blue link.

Remember that life is a journey and it is best to know your rights as a parent with a disability. Providing your child with the proper services can be hard, but with proper support, you can move in the right direction and make the best decisions for you and your child. The most important step is to learn what is available and to push through the paperwork needed to get the services promised to you by the state.

Different Kinds of Minds Contribute to Society

Gordon College hosted Temple Grandin, subject of a 2010 Emmy-winning HBO movie to speak during Beyond Disabilities week on February 21. I personally booked her, introduced her, and was able to spend the whole day with her. Needless to say, she was amazing. To get a glimpse of her advice, knowledge and wise council, please view her keynote address: Temple Grandin’s Keynote Speech at Gordon College with Leah Serao.

A new student: new mind and new behavior

Doug is an excellent boy who is so well behaved. Being one of the four boys in the math class, he stands out for his respectful attitude and his readiness to learn. Everyday he comes in with his hands folded, feet on the ground, and sits silently until the teacher gives directions. During a lesson, he tracks my teacher and is always on task. He used to not always be this way. When talking to his homeroom teacher, she admitted that she was scared of having him in her class at the beginning of the year. He was noisy, hyper, and very distracting. While I do not know the entire back-story of the student, the homeroom teacher said she would share the amazing transformation of Doug who is now so well behaved.  As of now, I know that he started taking medication that really helped his behavior in class. While I would like to focus another one of my reflections on the benefits and consequences of students be medicated, I would like to concentrate on Doug’s great behavior now. It is important for teachers to never put students in a box since they can change throughout the year. With a little encouragement and love, Doug has become an excellent student who exceeds others in his class. He comes to school ready to learn and appreciates his learning. I find that I am more willing to help him because I know his heart (and now mind) is in the right place. While the teachers had to be patient with his behavior at the beginning of the year, their hard work and constant reminders paid off. He is a complete joy to have in the classroom and I look forward to hearing the full story of how he used to behave to how he is behaving now. I hope other students and teachers can benefit from the story of Doug since he has become a role model and a different student in a matter of months.


**Student’s name has been changed for privacy reasons.

Ideas Transform Education and Individuals

One of my reflections from my Arts in the City Class: 

Ideas transform human beings. We must question if our education system and society create spaces for new ideas to be fostered, and if Western culture truly values the creativity of another human being. Do we encourage people to incorporate using their imagination, reason, and conscious when problem solving? Do we give time for people to actually think issues out? Instead of engaging these 3 receptors of goodness, beauty and truth, decisions are made on a whim since Corporate American and government generally move too fast to consider careful reflection and analysis.

When we realize that ideas have consequences and shape the way one views themselves and their relation to the world, we start to care about the ideas that are being taught to our students. I feel our education system and society does not do the best job in creating communities that foster ideas since most people get stuck doing the same job or task over and over, and are not given the time to create and be. In the sake of “being practical”, ideas that don’t directly relate to the problem or situation before us are largely discarded. It seems we are too busy as a culture to simply sit, be, and create. Instead of focusing on quality ideas, we generally settle for quantity since Western cultures holds onto the idea that more is better.

When the speaker brought up the story of Helen Keller in the Recovering Goodness, Beauty, and Truth lecture, I was struck with how the gift of symbols opened up Keller’s world and awakened something within her soul. Although Keller could only experience the world through 2 senses, touch and smell; she was alive to the beauty of the world. We read her sensations and experiences throughout her books as Keller revels in the beauty found around her and appreciates the wonder of the world. What she has is truly a gift since she was able to see the beauty in the world, despite her inability to see or hear.

Since humans are constantly trying to understand the meaning of life, we have the potential to create a world as we imagine it. Many times, people do not put enough emphasize on their personal responsibility of contributing to society since they do not see the world as interconnected. When one starts to takes ownership of one’s life and future, internal freedom is experienced, although external freedom may be limited by the choices of others. Consequently, we may find ourselves disappointed when we see a gap between the ideal and the point at which we find ourselves. How we handle this dissatisfaction will determine how we live our lives and what we take away from our experiences. By being careful not to be lost in the general, we take care of our human nature by exerting our free will within the limits of our imagination. We have control to see the world as we wish, and live out our ideal beliefs through art, action, and discussions with others.

Avoiding “Death Valley” in Education

Ken Robinson shares how current education needs to change in order for real learning to take place. He outlines 3 major principles on what every good education system needs. This is an excellent 20 minute TedTalk with great references to Death Valley and Finland.